A dish that can bowl you over
FOR fans, ramen is a thing of beauty, taut noodles in a steaming rich broth, ready for instant consumption. Yet devouring a bowl can be daunting. Few foods inspire such a cult-like following, yet it’s kind of unwieldy to eat.
Do you slurp up the long noodles, or attempt to “cut” them up with your chopsticks? Do you copy the guy that picked up his bowl and drank from it?
For some general rules of thumb we turned to Ivan Orkin, who spent years studying the art of ramen and knows exactly what to do and what not to do. Here are his rules:
When a bowl of ramen is placed in front of you, the noodles will probably be coiled together. If you take a moment to untangle them with your chopsticks, pulling them out of the coil, they’re easier to eat. If you just grab a large section of the tangle, you won’t fit them into your mouth. Many people like to place a Chinese soup spoon, a renge, underneath their noodles. (I think the spoon is the dumbest made, and one day someone will invent a better one). If you’re in a fancy place with the ridged chopsticks that really hold the noodles, then you should have no problem with slippage. I have friends in Japan who bring their own chopsticks when they go out – a tad too obsessive for me.
Do not be afraid to slurp your ramen. In Japan, it’s expected. For one thing, it cools hot noodles down. Noodles you can slurp are also the sign of a broth with enough fat to cling to them.
If you can’t slurp – as the noodle feels dry – the broth isn’t rich enough. This brings me to a side note about having the right noodle in the right broth: pairing noodles with soup is the same as pairing bread with a sandwich filling.
If you try to make a sandwich with Genoa salami and a super soft roll, it will be a failure and fall apart in your hands. A thick broth such as the pork-fatty opaque Tonkotsu needs a sturdier noodle.
The lighter soy sauce-flavoured shoyu broth calls for a more delicate one.
You want your soup to be in harmony. This isn’t necessarily something you can control, but it makes you an expert to be aware of.
A lot of people make the mistake of grabbing a giant pile of noodles which they can’t really handle.
Rule of thumb: take a smaller amount than you think you want. You do not want to be sucking noodles into your mouth and then biting them in half so that some falls back into the bowl. That’s just gross. No one would do that with a steak. Plan for a full, but not overwhelming mouthful of noodles. I like to think of ramen preparation as an action sport, an interactive activity. If you’re lucky enough to sit at a ramen bar that overlooks the kitchen, watch them build the bowl. It’s a surprisingly complex procedure for something that seems so simple. Years before I opened my first shop in Tokyo, I couldn’t understand how ramen was made. I would stare over the counter, figuring out how they did everything, such as timing of cooking the noodles, and that’s how I learnt to make ramen.
When I go to a ramen shop for the first time, I choose the bowl that the place is most famous for. I will go easy on the toppings; maybe I will get an egg.
I want to know whether I like the flavour of the ramen and what the fuss is all about. If I go back, then I will check to see if they have a special, and that’s when I experiment with toppings.
I’m a purist, and don’t usually do a lot of them, however, that doesn’t mean they’re not fun, and if you feel like ordering all the garnishes you can find on the menu, go for it. It’s like ordering all the toppings for your pizza.
Be ready to drink a tremendous amount of water with your ramen – or beer, or both. There’s a lot of salt in the broth, whether you know it or not, and if you don’t drink water, I guarantee you are going to feel crappy. In Japan, they sell a special black oolong tea, which helps to digest the pork fat in Tonkotsu ramen. You can find the tea in vending machines next to some of shops that sell Tonkotsu ramen – the pork-based one, which is especially fatty.
It’s totally okay to drink the broth from the bowl. It’s considered a compliment to how good the broth is. However, finish it at your own risk; those broths are flavour bombs, packed with sodium. Another thing that is okay to do is to ask for extra noodles if you’ve finished the ones in your bowl. Last, have a stack of napkins handy, because ramen can be a bit of a mess.
That’s why it is so popular. Like all the great comfort foods of the world, it’s messy and wonderful. – Bloomberg
A hot bowl of ramen stands high on the list of great comfort foods of the world.